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Graduation Stories

Savannah Tabor surprises herself with her determination

Tabor, a Pamlico County native, worked more than 20 hours per week while a full-time student in Havelock.

Savannah Tabor, dressed in NC State red graduation gown, leans against large boulders on Fort Macon Beach. The Atlantic Ocean and waves can be seen behind her.
Savannah Tabor at Fort Macon Beach located 30 minutes away from the MES campus. Photo by K Montedonico Photography

Savannah Tabor made a long list of pros and cons when deciding on where to attend college.

As a first-generation college student, she navigated the complex application process mostly on her own as she applied — and was accepted — to several schools with engineering programs in North Carolina.

“If I had a question, I had to go find it out myself,” she said. “I had to make phone calls, plan advising appointments, and do my research, which got me out of my comfort zone, and I’m glad for that. But it was a lot of work, trying to figure out what to do in the midst of being a high school student.”

The Havelock site-based program graduating class of 2024 stands beneath the NC State University Engineering logo at the MES campus.
Savannah Tabor, second from left, with NCSU MES Campus graduating class of 2024.

She considered coming to NC State’s campus in Raleigh, as well as the 2+2 program offered by Meredith College partnering with NC State. But the Pamlico County native decided to stay local after she received an internship offer, fresh out of high school, at the Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE), which provides support for aircraft operated by the Navy and Marine Corps and is located on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, North Carolina.

Tabor enrolled at Craven Community College (CCC) for her math and science courses and planned to stay for two years before transferring to NC State’s campus in Raleigh. While at CCC, she met Bill Fortney, the eastern regional director for engineering at NC State. He told her about NC State’s site-based program at CCC in Havelock. With an NC State program available to her locally, it met the pros that had previously been divided among different schools on her list: a good engineering program, close to home, financially feasible, an ability to stay at her job and potential for more opportunities. She obtained her associate in science and in general education in spring 2021, and began the NC State site-based program that fall.

“Financially, it was ideal to stay local,” she said. “And then when I found out that the engineering program existed here, and I didn’t have to leave home, that was a big yes. I love the area and being on the water, and my family is here.”

Hard work pays off

Tabor’s summer internship at FRCE became a part-time position during her years at CCC, and she continued working there as she pursued her B.S. in engineering with a concentration in mechanical engineering systems. She loved the hands-on work she was doing, and she started to gain more responsibilities on the support equipment team at FRCE.

A typical day for Tabor consisted of starting work at 6:30 a.m. After working for a few hours, she would attend classes, return back to work, then would go home, cook dinner, spend some time outside, and do homework and study. 

Savannah Tabor and classmates in front of a military plane.
Savannah Tabor, third from left, during a New River Visit for a Capstone project sponsored by FRC-E.

Throughout college she would typically work 20-29 hours a week, and lately she’s been up to 33, while managing her course load.

“Sometimes I’m like, ‘Why did I do this?’” she said, and laughed. “But I love it.”

In 2022, her close mentor went on paternity leave, and at that time Tabor became the go-to person for questions coming in from the fleet, did more design and engineering process work and connected with other employees at higher levels.

A 3D printed prototype of a helicopter component.
A 3D-printed component prototype Savannah and her team produced for the H-CH-53K helicopter.
An automated guide vehicle is displayed on a red tabletop with a clear acrylic sign in the foreground reading "AGVX Automated Exploration."
An automated guided vehicle built by Savannah Tabor and her class. It is designed to maneuver around an artificial plant and complete numerous operations mechanically and electrically.

“During that time, I feel like I grew a lot in my career at Fleet Readiness Center East,” she said. “It got me out of my comfort zone, and I appreciated that in the long run.”

Her hard work paid off. She starts her full-time job as an engineer at FRCE in mid-May, having already worked at FRCE for one month short of five years. She is ready for more opportunities and projects.

“I surprised myself with how determined I can be and then just personal development through that,” she said.

Tabor is one of the many students who have benefited from being able to get a degree close to home and a chance to work around engineers while going to school. The site-based program marks its 20th anniversary this year.

“Savannah is one of many who has been impacted by NC State’s investment in Eastern North Carolina and is now giving back to her community,” Fortney said.

Savannah Tabor poses for a photo atop a skyscraper deck with a view of New York City behind her.
Traveling is something Savannah Tabor loves to do. She is shown here during a trip to New York City last summer.
Savannah Tabor poses with a donkey during a trip to Mexico.
Savannah Tabor during a trip to Mexico. She says this is her favorite trip thus far.

Tabor plans to give back outside of her service to her country through FRCE. She didn’t have female-focused STEM programs available to her as a student, nor was she fully aware of the site-based NC State engineering program. At FRCE, she had three mentors who knew her capabilities and helped her develop as an engineer while making connections to support her work projects.

“I want to get plugged back into Pamlico County High School and reach out to them so they know about the local opportunities and just how amazing they can be,” she said. “I want to give people the help I wish I had when I was signing up for college classes, especially as a first-generation student.”

Tabor will attend both her program’s ceremony in Havelock and NC State’s commencement at PNC Arena. But first, she had to mark one final thing off her to-do list before she is no longer a student: getting a student ID card. With all her work and academic commitments, she’d been unable to go to NC State’s campus in Raleigh to get a student ID.

“I went to campus [last week] to pick up my cords for graduation, and I finally got my student ID,” she said. “I was like, ‘I’ve gotta get it. I’m here. I just have to have a student ID.’”

With an ID card in hand and diploma on the way, she’ll officially be an NC State engineer by Saturday.

“I’m super excited,” she said. “And it still feels like I’m dreaming.”

Savannah Tabor sits on a bench in front of the STEM Center. Photo by K Montedonico Photography
Photo by K Montedonico Photography
Photo by K Montedonico Photography